From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.07 :: Feb. 17, 2011
One who has watched Samit Patel's left-arm spin and robust left-handed hitting since he was a child said that "he is by far the best of his type in this country, ideal for the conditions in the sub-continent and ought to be in the World Cup squad."
The evening after I had spent all night watching England's third successive defeat in the seven-match one-day series in Australia I decided that a change of sport might lift my spirits.
No. I could not believe the Ashes winners could play so badly either. So, I thought, let's watch a game which, like cricket, has plenty of stop and start and a lot of tactical thinking.
I tuned to Green Bay Packers play-off against Chicago Bears for a place in the Super Bowl and saw the way sport can be played and how it will always shock us all.
Green Bay — “my” team from years ago because they had the charismatic Vince Lombardi as their coach — led 14-0 and then 14-7 with not too much time left. But Chicago were attacking and seemingly on a roll; the match was still alive.
Then in a flash it was won. In the middle of nowhere and far from anywhere he should have been a rotund figure caught a pass from the Bears quarter back and ran 18 yards unopposed for a match-winning touchdown. He was grinning furiously for what remained of the match and with good reason.
That unlikely figure, bulging over the top of his elasticated pants, a-rolling and a-wobbling round his thighs — certainly no advertisement for footballing fitness — had propelled Green Bay into the Super Bowl final by being the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time and leaving his mates to fill the hole he had opened up in defence.
The hero of the hour was one B.J. Raji — you will not need to query his ethnic background — who forgot tackling and blocking and all the skulduggery that goes with those necessary parts of American football tactics and taken the first interception of his career and scored his first touchdown.
Some games will pass in which this barrel of lard never touches the ball. Now he is part of the game's folk law. The point I wish to make is that you do not always have to be svelte and swift — B. J. could not accelerate two yards from the line when a Chicago tackler almost downed him — but by the next morning the San Francisco Chronicle was hailing his “waddle” to the line.
I have no way of knowing if Andy Flower, who is lean as a whippet and can complete bleep tests in his sleep, saw that moment. I just hope he did.
Flower has recently complained about the fitness of the one-time England all-rounder — yes, how appropriate — Samit Patel who is fat and not yet 30 and left him out of the World Cup party. Flower sees only one way to play: treading the fitness path as demonstrated by the Aussies in their all-conquering days.
For men like Flower — and there are many — fat is not just a feminist issue. It is a sporting disaster despite everything one can say about Colin “Ollie” Milburn, W. G. Grace and Colin Cowdrey.
Mighty Bill Shakespeare saw life in a different shape. “Let me have men about me that are fat,” he wrote a few centuries ahead of the first professional sport. His point was that there were contented men who slept well at night, didn't worry and knew their business.
I am told by one who has watched Patel's left-arm spin and robust left-handed hitting since he was a child that “he is by far the best of his type in this country, ideal for the conditions in the sub-continent and ought to be in the World Cup squad.”
He knows, as I do, that there is no one to replicate the frightening fast bowling and big hitting that once stout Andrew Flintoff offered and that, slower and proportionately fatter, Patel might just slip into that great cricketer's place.
I sigh every time I see a new story about what Flintoff is going to undertake next. I know he is only fit for the soft TV games but it is so sad that England desperately need him and that he can no longer fulfill the role that won back the Ashes.
Flower and the boss selector Geoff Miller and Co, want at least a man who does not turn the bleep test into the sleep test and they fear if they make one exception for Patel standards will nosedive. The end of cricketing civilisation as we know it, I suppose.
Fitness — alongside diving to save one run on the boundary edge — has become a fetish. Cowdrey was one of the greatest batsmen of his era and one of the finest in England's history, Grace was at least as high on the sporting mountain as Flintoff 100 years earlier and as for Milburn he was a jolly chap, a terrific opening batsman and a great wall at short leg.
Besides, it is possible to survive in one's chosen profession without a basic skill. I know half a dozen great writers who suffer from dyslexia — the inability to visualise words and get the letters in the right order — but who wake up each morning with the battle cry “God bless the spell checker” and get on with their lives.
As B. J. Raji has shown ten super fit athletes is enough and there is always room for one with the ability to win a game no matter his weight, his fitness levels or his ill-fitting uniform.
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